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Government & policy

New health minister appointed in Alberta

EDMONTON – Fred Horne (pictured) has been appointed Alberta’s Minister of Health by the new premier, Alison Redford. Critics have labeled Horne as a proponent of privatization who spent years as a consultant advising previous health ministers about two-tiered health schemes.

But Horne, who said he was excited and humbled to receive the cabinet post, said he knows nothing of such claims and aims to give Albertans what they want: access to doctors for families, seniors and the mentally ill.

“I haven’t been involved (with privatization),” said Horne, 50, a health policy consultant. He became an MLA in March 2008.

He worked under former health ministers Gene Zwozdesky and Ron Liepert after a decade of contract work with their predecessors Gary Mar, Iris Evans and Dave Hancock.

“Our premier has made it very clear we’re here in support of the publicly funded healthcare system,” said Horne, who led public consultations for the new health act and the department’s advisory committee on health.

But Liberal Leader Dr. Raj Sherman said Albertans should be concerned with Horne’s appointment.

“We’ve got the chief architect of the PC privatization plan coming back to finish the job in healthcare,” said Sherman, a former Tory who served as parliamentary assistant on health until he was replaced by Horne.

Sherman was thrown out of the Progressive Conservative caucus last year after criticizing its handling of health – and after a whisper campaign that became public when Horne called psychiatrist Patrick White to discuss Sherman’s behaviour.

Sherman said while he was still in the inner circle, Horne presented an internal report discussing options for private health insurance, delisting procedures and allowing doctors to work in the public and private systems.

“Fred was doing all the work at agenda and policies (committee), all the things that have happened in healthcare at a time when we had the highest spending, the worst performance, crisis to crisis year after year,” Sherman said. He said Zwozdesky should stay as health minister and Jay Ramatar as deputy health minister.

NDP Leader Brian Mason had similar qualms about Horne.

“He is the author of the plan for more private healthcare delivery that this government has been following by stealth,” Mason said.

David Eggen, executive director of Friends of Medicare, said: “We’ll be watching carefully. If they want health to be an asset to their political future and not this huge ball and chain, then they have to make a break from the past five years.”

But Redford said she chose Horne because he offers some continuity with the past.

Posted October 20, 2011